Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in The Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories and fever swamps, June 13-18, 2017


rhetorical claim: progressives have triumphed over faith. Now they’re targeting conscience itself. Their bleak vision of civic life does not allow any religious liberty in the public square.

rhetorical effect: makes progressives out to be godless bigots fighting a tyrannical war against religious freedom. By arguing that progressives lack any respect for conscience, this meme equates liberalism with nihilism.


preposterous Russian fantasies

rhetorical claim: the Dems’ witch hunt is nothing more than a vendetta against Trump for winning the election, and is merely based on innuendo and partisan distaste with Trump. A presidential election is being overturned by an elite consensus across the vast ideological and cultural divide running all the way from the New York Times to the Washington Post. 

rhetorical effect: dusts off the old argument about liberal elites dominating the mainstream media; relegates all adverse Russia-Trump stories to being “fake news” and liberal fantasies. Their logic seems to be that if you say something isn’t there enough times, maybe it will just go away.


informed choice

rhetorical claim: consumer protections should help people make informed choices instead of trying to dictate choices with prohibitive rules.

rhetorical effect: often used in defense of stripping away most Dodd-Frank provisions, this inside-out logic argues that fewer government regulations mean more consumer protection–that people are more informed when the government doesn’t mandate any transparency or information.



rhetorical claim: Speaking of obstruction of justice, what about Loretta Lynch blocking the Clinton e-mail investigation?

rhetorical effect: proves effective at changing the subject or creating false equivalencies. Acts as if any question, inconsistency or factual error invalidates an entire claim.


freedom from

rhetorical claim: The GOP plan to eliminate health coverage for millions of Americans and do away with such essential health benefits as maternity care for millions more is just a matter of good old free-market consumerism. As explained by Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Tea Party Republican, “Americans have choices. And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.” As Paul Ryan put it,  “Freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need.” Trumpcare, Mike Pence tell us, is all about “bringing freedom and individual responsibility back to American health care.”

rhetorical effect: Trumpcare offers “freedom” from health care. As Jim Hightower puts it,  you are as free as you can afford to be:

right-wing, corporate-funded ideologues have fabricated a new negative notion of “freedoms” derived from individual choice. You’re free to be poor, free to be politically powerless or free to be ill and uncared for; it’s all a matter of decisions you freely make in life, and our larger society has no business interfering with your free will.


sexual risk avoidance

rhetorical claim: marriage is the best context for sexual activity, and we need to normalize sexual delay for teenagers. So a holistic policy of  virginity until marriage is the best solution, and also in line with biblical reaching. Premarital sex makes people dirty and incapable of falling in love.

rhetorical effect: makes it sound as if abstinence-only education is a public health initiative instead of religion-tinged sexual shaming. Demonizes contraception.


multicultural indemnity

rhetorical claim: President Obama was able to do whatever he wanted because , according to Victor David Hanson, he was protected by “the thin exculpatory veneer of Ivy League pretension, multicultural indemnity, and studied smoothness.”

rhetorical effect: implies that any expressed belief in the benefits of multiculturalism amounts to a hypocritical excuse to abuse power. Multiculturalism is thus framed as essentially a con game  based on the quest for power, not on principle.


defending my honor

rhetorical claim: Jeff Sessions defended himself against “false and scurrilous attacks” because his honor was at stake. Despite Dem attempts to defame him as a liar, prevaricator and co-conspirator, Sessions defended his honor.

rhetorical effect: playing the honor card in this case is a threat, designed to make questioners back off in order to avoid a personal confrontation. The honor card allowed him to either lie or refuse to answer key questions. The only thing he seems to have remembered is that he did nothing wrong.

However, Sessions did plenty wrong, especially in refusing, on several occasions, to act, and thus revealing an either gross incompetence or a bewildering lack of curiosity:

  1. Sessions says that he discussed getting rid of Comey after the election but before the inauguration. If Comey was doing such damage to the FBI, why did Sessions wait six months to recommend his removal? Also, in all that time why didn’t he discuss Comey’s job performance with Comey?
  2. Sally Yates warned the new administration about not trusting Michael Flynn because he was under an investigative cloud, but apparently this admonition never spread to the FBI Director or else he was blase about it.
  3. Sessions never discussed Russian hacking with Comey, Trump  or the Russians. How is it possible that he has still not been briefed on it, and only knows about from media reports?
  4. Sessions never asked Comey what Trump said when he cleared the room to be alone with Comey.
  5. Sessions couldn’t cite any law or policy preventing him from reporting conversations with the President. How could he not have been prepped to answer this most fundamental question?
  6. Sessions testified that he “in effect” recused himself his second day in office, but didn’t actually do so for another two or three weeks. Why not?